Contact: Meredith Dickenson or Ellen Sterner
SMU News & Media Relations
(214) 768-7654

April 29, 2003

A Final Exam: Redesigning Lives

Engineering Students Create Devices to Help the Disabled

(Click here to see photographs)

DALLAS (SMU) -- What's so complicated about an umbrella that a group of SMU students would spend the entire year designing one? An umbrella that a disabled person can deploy with the flip of a switch.

Each year, for the past seven years, the final examination for mechanical engineering students at SMU has been to design devices for the disabled as their senior design projects. Students begin with customer need, interviewing the disabled for a design idea that could be practical to their lives. Eventually, the design process produces a working prototype to be used by the disabled in the real world. Students will present and demonstrate their designs at a media briefing.


  • Friday, May 2, 10-11 a.m.
  • Promenade B (lower level), Hughes-Trigg Student Center, 3140 Dyer Street
  • Five designs will be demonstrated by their designers


  • Hunting or fishing has not been possible for many of the disabled simply because maneuvering through terrain on a wheelchair is not possible. But SMU students got the idea to retrofit an All-Terrain Vehicle with a special chair, the Off-Road Para-Chair, which is capable of holding someone with a disability safely and securely while in the rugged outdoors.
  • Rain can be a nuisance, but what if you're in a wheelchair and can't open, much less hold an umbrella on your own? The UnderCover Canopy is an automatically deployable/retractable umbrella or rain cover that attaches to a powered wheelchair and is operated with a simple flip of a switch.
  • Most people would take for granted reaching around to pull something out of a bag. But for a person in a wheelchair, it's either difficult or impossible without the help of another. The Access-a-pack is a device that eliminates hard-to-reach backpacks usually mounted behind wheelchairs. The storage unit carries articles behind the user, but does not require him or her to twist around or exert great effort.
  • Getting up after a fall is oftentimes not possible, but with some assistance, many elderly or disabled can get up on their own. That's why students designed the DollieLift. It's capable of lifting a person up off the floor and placing their body at a height that allows them to stand up using their own strength.
  • Most people don't think twice about getting into their cars. The Easy-Trans is a transfer aid to assist disabled drivers from their wheelchairs into the driver's seat of their car.

The United Service Association For Health Care Foundation has been hand-in-hand with the Kent Waldrep Paralysis Foundation in granting funds to develop mechanical designs for the disabled since the inception of this concept at SMU.

"It's been really rewarding to see these kids respond -- the creativity they've shown and the sensitivity they've given to the disabled community," said Kent Waldrep, founder of the Kent Waldrep National Paralysis Foundation.

"We are very proud to be linked with a project of this caliber that promotes engineering skills, empathy, research and vision in designing products for the disabled," says Lana Montgomery Couch, Foundation President of United Service Association For Health Care.

While doing their research, students interact with the disabled, inserting a human side to their design projects. All projects include need analyses, design specifications, budgets and recommendations giving students firsthand knowledge of the design process.

"The purpose of the course is to teach product realization. But what we discovered is we get an added bonus. Students get very sensitized to how engineering can affect the well being of people," said Dr. Paul Packman, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the projects program.

For more information, contact Meredith Dickenson at 214/768-7654.